Category Archives: Romance

Circle of Two (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man/young teen.

Ashley St. Clair (Richard Burton) is an aging painter of 60 who has lost his passion and hasn’t either sold, or attempted to do a painting in over 10 years. Sarah (Tatum O’Neal) is an unhappy 15-year-old who’s tired of dating guys her own age as she finds them to be immature and only interested in one thing…sex. She then meets Ashley, first after she sneaks into an adult theater to watch an X-rated movie and then later at a coffee shop. Despite the extreme differences in their ages they still connect through their mutual interest in art. Ashley even begins to paint again and the two share an enjoyable, but platonic friendship. However, once Sarah’s parents (Robin Gammell, Patricia Collins) find out about they put an immediate stop to it by locking her in her room and and in protest Sarah refuses to eat.

Based on the novel ‘A Lesson in Love’ by Marie-Terese Baird this film marks the final one to be directed by famed Greek director Jules Dassin and in many ways this may be the weakest one that he did. The whole way the relationship gets going is very rushed and forced. Bumping into the same person twice in one day, in the big city of Toronto, doesn’t seem likely and then having Sarah fall so head-over-heels for him to the point she starts spouting out the ‘L’ word quite quickly is dingy. A more plausible scenario would’ve had Ashley teaching an art class (he no longer paints, but still has to bring in an income somehow) of which Sarah attends and then through the course of several months a bond is slowly created.

The sex angle is a complete mess. Fortunately Ashley makes no moves on her, but Sarah does aggressively begin to come-on to him and at one point stands completely naked in front of him. In her autobiography ‘A Paper Life’ O’Neal expressed great discomfort in having to do this scene though I didn’t detect this, but maybe that’s just because she’s such a great actress, but either way the scene was completely unnecessary.  It’s also inconsistent with the character as she broke-up with her boyfriend Paul (Michael Wincott) because he was trying to pressure her into having sex and she was still a virgin, so if she didn’t want sex with a guy her own age why would she want it with one who was way older and is this era of pre-Viagra how could she even be sure he could do it? A better scenario would’ve had sex never coming into play and it was simply their other mutual interests that connected them and it was only outsiders, like Sarah’s parents, that presumed the worst when it really wasn’t occurring.

The one bright spot is the acting with both leads being superb. O’Neal proves that her strong and memorable performance in Paper Moon was no fluke and the only thing that keeps the film watchable. Burton is excellent as well. Although he usually has a strong presence here he wisely takes a step back playing someone who’s weak and tentative, which in many ways reflected his own career at the time where many felt he was washed-up and the years of alcohol abuse certainly did age him making him look even older than 60 when he really wasn’t, and thus a perfect fit for the part. The only issue here is that Tatum seems way too mature for 15 both physically and personality-wise and having her play someone who was 17 would’ve been more appropriate.

While the film remains marginally compelling the talky ending in which Burton goes on a long speech like a tenured professor lecturing to a college class practically ruins it. I was also frustrated that we never learn much about the old man, played by George Bourne Sr., an elderly gentleman who agrees to let Ashley paint his portrait for a fee, which in-turn revitalizes his career and I felt this character should’ve been in it more, or at least a few scenes showing what they talked about as his portrait was being done.

Tatum’s abstaining from all food plays-out poorly as well. For one thing she doesn’t change physically, so we’d never know she wasn’t eating if it weren’t mentioned. She then travels to New York and I was fully expecting her to pass-out in the middle of crowded Grand Central Station from a lack of nutrients, but apparently in-between time she had eaten something, but this should’ve been shown and the fact that it isn’t is a sign of shoddy film-making, which despite Dassin’s previous output, this whole movie ends up pretty much being.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: World Northal

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Foul Play (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beware of the dwarf.

Gloria (Goldie Hawn) is a recent divorcee who takes a car trip along the San Francisco coast where she comes upon a stranded motorist (Bruce Solomon). Since she is looking to meet new people she decides to give him a ride. The man says his name is Scotty and that he’s looking to give up smoking and gives her his pack of cigarettes in an effort to stay away from them. Unbeknownst to Gloria the pack holds a microfilm that a secret organization is after. That evening the two meet-up at a theater to watch a movie, but Scotty, who has already been stabbed, dies while sitting in his seat. Gloria runs to notify the theater manager (Chuck McCann), but when they return the body is gone. Later that night Gloria gets attacked in her apartment by a man (Don Calfa) with a facial scare. She stabs him with her knitting needles and he falls over dead, at least she thinks so, before she herself passes-out. When the she comes to two policemen are in her place, but with no evidence of a body. One of the officers (Brian Dennehy) thinks she may be nutty, but the other one (Chevy Chase) finds her attractive and therefore makes an effort to research her story and while Gloria and he work together to investigate the case they begin a romantic relationship.

While Leonard Maltin, in his review, or whoever wrote if for him, describes this film as ‘Hitchcock plagiarism’ I found it similar to High Anxiety that came out a year before, and more of a homage. Many other films that try to replicate Hitch’s style usually fail because they go overboard with the theatrics, or too much parody, but this one has a nice balance that is both intriguing and funny.  Another great quality of the film is the way it lovingly photographs the city and landscape of Frisco Bay from its beautiful shore line, to row houses, to the scenic boat houses where the Chase character resides. It’s almost enough to compel one to move there if only a person who wasn’t super rich could afford to live there.

The supporting cast is delightful and everyone of them has some really laugh-out-loud moments. Dudley Moore is the best, in a part written specifically for Tim Conway who shockingly turned it down, as a sex starved bachelor who brings Gloria to his pad filled with blow-up sex dolls thinking the two will have sex only to learn that’s the last thing on her mind. Marilyn Sokol as Gloria’s fiercely feminist friend is quite amusing as is dwarf actor Billy Barty as a bible salesmen who Gloria mistakes as being the killer. Burgess Meredith, as Gloria’s kindly old landlord, doesn’t come-off as well and gets upstaged by his pet python. It also would’ve been good had his character brought-up his judo skills earlier in the story instead of having it introduced later on when they must confront the bad guys, which was just a little too convenient though the karate match that he has with Rachel Roberts is quite entertaining and something I wished had gone on longer.

I did though have some issues withe the two leads. Goldie is as enjoyable as ever, but her character makes what I felt were grossly misguided decisions. One is picking-up a stranded male stranger on an isolated road, which from a simple common sense perspective is a major no-no. She also later-on blithely walks into her apartment even after she becomes aware that the front door has been broken into. In another scene she’s given mace and a pair of brass knuckles from her friend Stella to use for protection and Gloria is able to escape from a locked room and knock-out the bad guy with the help of these items, but then she throws them away before running out, but any logical person would hold onto them in-case they were needed again.

Chase playing a police detective was something that I just couldn’t buy into. He initially comes-off, when Gloria first meets him at a party, as a lecherous lounge lizard looking to hit on hot babes and not serious about much else. He’s also seen as being highly klutzy, so having this clownish womanizer suddenly turn into a dedicated cop doesn’t jive and seemed more like two completely different people. Brian Dennehy gives a far more realistic portrayal of a policeman and is actually funnier in his exasperated responses to Gloria’s crazy story, so he should’ve been the sole investigator and Chase could’ve been this ordinary doofus that she meets and because he has the hots for her he agrees to ‘humor her’ and help her out on the case. The story and romance could’ve remained the same, but casting Chase as a regular Joe, which he’s far better playing at, would’ve made better sense.

The story does become strained at the end with a speeding car sequence that’s more nerve-wracking than fun, though the elderly Asian couple that can speak no English and sit in the back seat of the speeding limo are amusing. The whole reason behind the crime and attempted assassination of the Pope is hooky and it would’ve been better had no explanation been given at all than explaining it away the way they do. However, the climactic sequence done during a performance of ‘The Mikado’ at the San Francisco Opera House, is terrific and a nice finish to what is otherwise perfect escapism.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Colin Higgins

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD. Blu-ray

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

A Tiger’s Tale (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Falling for girlfriend’s mother.

Bubber (C. Thomas Howell) is a high school student who’s dating Shirley (Kelly Preston) yet becomes more interested in Rose (Ann-Margaret) Shirley’s mother. The problem is Rose is an alcoholic and scared of snakes, which Bubber has as a pet and tigers, which Bubber also has as a pet. Despite all this the two slowly hit-it-off while keeping it a secret from the increasingly suspicious Shirley. Eventually she catches them in the act when she sees the two running naked at a drive-in where they tried to make love outside, but got attacked by fire ants. To get revenge Shirley pricks a hole in Rose’s diaphragm, so that she gets pregnant with Bubber’s baby. Bubber though intends to move-in with Rose to help her raise it, but Rose considers an abortion.

It’s impossible to say where this movie goes wrong mainly because it never gets going in the first place. It’s based off of the novel ‘Love and Other Natural Disasters’ by Allen Hannay III, who was paid $80,000 to have the rights to it sold to Vincent Pictures, which was owned and run by Peter Douglas, the third son of Kirk Douglas and brother of Michael. Peter then converted it into a screenplay, but without having read the book I couldn’t help but feel that something got lost in the transition. This is a big problem when novels get turned into movies as films don’t have as much depth to the story and characters as books typically do, which is why most people who enjoyed the story in book form usually end up disappointed when they see it as a movie. The elements are there for something potentially interesting, but Douglas, who also directed, doesn’t have the ability to put it altogether, which is probably a good reason why he’s never written, or directed any movie since.

I liked the setting, filmed in Waller County, Texas, but it doesn’t give the viewer enough feel of the region. Just showing the exterior of the homes and the drive-in isn’t enough. We need to see the town that they live-in in order to understand the characters and learn what makes them tick and the environments they are brought up in can have a lot to do with that, but when that environment gets captured in an ambiguous way, like here, it doesn’t help.

The story seems to want to tap into the themes of The Graduate, but that was a brilliant film and if you can’t top that, or at least equal it, then it’s best not to even try. Ann-Margaret is supposed to be an alcoholic, but we only see her with a drink in her hand at the start and then the rest of the time she seems quite sober. I also didn’t like the way she see-saws between being vampish at one moment and then a mature adult who gets real preachy with Bubber the next. It’s like someone with a split personality who isn’t fleshed-out and the same can be said for Howell’s character too.

There was potential for some funny bits like when Rose goes over to Bubber’s house and tells him she’s really frightened of snakes and then gets undressed and into bed with him. The camera then pans down to show a snake slithering under the covers and I thought this was the beginning of a really hilarious moment, but then the film cuts away. Later on Rose is shown to be comfortable in the presence of Bubber’s snake, but we never witness her transition, which was a missed opportunity for character development.  The scene where Rose and Bubber going running naked at the drive-in is dumb too because apparently only Shirley notices them even though with the screaming that the two were making it would’ve made anyone at the drive-in look-up and not just her.

Even the reliable Charles Durning gets wasted and becomes as dull as the rest. In fact the only thing that  I did enjoy was the tiger. I must commend Howell for being willing to get into a cage with it and stick his hand inside it’s mouth, but I was confused why the tiger is playful one second and then proceeds to try and attack Howell the next. Also, why would Howell want to get back into the animal’s cage later after he almost got his leg bite-off before? Even with that in mind I still felt the tiger was cool, the scene where he kills and eats a pooch of some customers that were just passing through is amusing in a dark sort of way and when he’s eventually set free is the only memorable moment in what is otherwise a misfire.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Douglas

Studio: Vincent Pictures

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Secret Admirer (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anonymous letter creates confusion.

Michael (C. Thomas Howell) is a teen secretly infatuated with Deborah (Kelly Preston), who’s considered the hottest babe in school. He wants to date her, but is too shy to approach her. He then receives an unsigned letter in his locker from someone stating that they’re in-love with him. Michael is convinced that it’s from Deborah. His friend Toni (Lori Laughlin) convinces him to write a letter to her, but his attempts to write something romantic prove futile, so Toni decides to do it for him, but still make it seem like it came from him. Once Deborah reads the letter she falls instantly in-love and the two go out on a date, but meanwhile Michael’s mother Connie (Dee Wallace) reads the letter and thinks it’s been written to her husband George (Cliff De Young) and that he’s been fooling around behind-her-back. George also reads the letter, but thinks it’s from Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young) who’s teaching a evening class that George is taking and is also Deborah’s mother. George uses the opportunity to make a pass at her and the two agree to go out on a date while Connie gets with Lou (Fred Ward), Elizabeth’s husband and Deborah’s father, in an attempt to stop it, but find that they too have more in common than they thought and begin to contemplate an affair of their own.

An unusual and offbeat 80’s teen sex comedy that fares a bit better than most of the others. The dialogues between the teens seems more realistic and they aren’t extremes caricatures like what you usually get in this tired genre. I was even surprised that they at one point have a discussion of the film Doctor Zhivago and even know the actor’s names who are in it even though it was an old film even back then. There’s a segment where Michael and Deborah attempt to have sex and it turns into a painful and awkward experience for both, which I liked, because too many times these types of movies would portray sex, even if it was the first time for both partners, as being an exhilarating, fun time, which it isn’t always. The parents aren’t portrayed as being ‘out-of-it’ or overly authoritarian like in other teen comedies and cutting back-and-forth between the adult escapades and the teens is at least initially a refreshingly original concept.

The performances are engaging even Howell does well here particularly at the end when he tries frantically to chase down Toni. The adults though are a bit more engaging despite De Young looking too boyish to be playing the part of a father of a 17-year-old. Wallace and Ward are the scene-stealers especially Dee and the way she breaks-out crying when she gets really upset and Ward’s overly-protective father persona is funny too and the film should’ve just been centered around them.

Spoiler Alert!

The jumping back and forth though between the adults and the teens starts to seem like two different movies with the parent’s storyline being the better one. I didn’t like the way it got wrapped-up with the couples going back to their former spouses like everything was back to normal even though there seemed to be clear issues in both marriages for them to so easily consider affairs when they thought there was a chance. It would’ve worked better and even been more believable had it ended the other way where the couples swapped partners and thus became more compatible.

I didn’t understand why Michael saw Toni only as a friend, even tough she was clearly into him. I considered Toni to being better looking than Deborah, or at least certainly in the same league, so unless Michael had a fetish for blondes over brunettes it didn’t makes much sense why he’s so tirelessly chase after Deborah when he already had a good thing with Toni. For it to believable Toni needed to be less beautiful, even plain looking, then it would be understandable why Michael would overlook her, but eventually see her in a romantic way once he realized all the nice things she did for him. It would’ve also have sent a good message that a female didn’t have to be cover girl quality, which both Laughlin and Preston were, and could still be able to find love.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While this film sat for several decades in virtual obscurity it finally came to prominence in 2016 when it was part of a controversy dealing with the Puerto Rico movie Vasos De Paper, which was written and directed by Eduardo Ortiz. That film was a virtual scene-for-scene remake of this one despite the director insisting that it wasn’t. When the evidence became too much Ortiz finally broke down during a radio interview and admitted that he had ‘done a very bad thing’ and stole the idea without giving proper credit to the original writer and director. The cast of that film were unaware of this one and had no idea they were taking part in a plagiarized script. Once they did they apologized for their involvement and the movie was pulled from the theaters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greenwalt

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The High Country (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping into the mountains.

Jim (Timothy Bottoms) is arrested for dealing marijuana and taken by police car to jail when the brakes in the vehicle go out and the car overturns, which allows him to escape, but not before being shot in the arm by one of the officers. Kathy (Linda Purl) is an adult woman, who can’t read while also suffering from other learning disabilities. She leaves the family that she’s been staying with and goes hitch-hiking when she comes upon the injured Jim. Initially the two have nothing in common, but she’s able to help him with his injury and guide him over a rugged mountainous terrain, which will be out of reach to the authorities who are after him and in the process the two begin to form an unlikely bond.

While the film doesn’t have much to cheer about I did at least like the mountain scenery, filmed on-location at the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There’s also a few marginally tense moments where the two scale the side of the mountain, where like in the movie Deliverance, it’s the actors doing the actual climbing and not stunt people. I also enjoyed the offbeat humor of having Jim attend a bar where a sign hangs that read’s ‘absolutely no profanity allowed’ (what sort-of self-respecting bar would have this rule. I guess only in ‘nice’ Canada) and a brawl breaks-out when one of the patrons decides to swear.

The performances are engaging especially Purl’s whose blue-eyes exude the perfect look of innocence. I was though frustrated that we never get to see these ‘cigarette trees’ that she mentions and says is somewhere in the mountain country as I was expecting the movie to have an answer since the script brings it up. The film also initially shows Kathy reading a story to some children making it look like she can read, but we’re told later that she was only ‘telling’ the story, but a good director would clue the viewer in right away that something isn’t right with her reading and those around her can sense it.

Bottoms is strong too though it’s surprising how far his career had tumbled where in the early 70’s he was getting starring roles in acclaimed Hollywood movies, but by the 80’s was relegated to low budget indie projects and foreign films. His character here is a bit snarky and he’s hard to warm-up to though the scene where he saves Kathy helps remedy this. The fact though that he has a bullet lodged in his body and is initially in great pain with a bad infection and yet this all magically gets healed without ever receiving proper medical care seemed dubious.

Spoiler Alert!

I was not so happy with the father character who arrives pretty much out of nowhere in the third act and is somehow able to track the two down when no one else can. It’s never clear whether this guy is meant to be a nemesis, or not and he should’ve been introduced earlier and made a stronger impression upfront. He also looks way too young to be Kathy’s father, who’s clearly in her 20’s and yet he doesn’t have any gray hair and with his big bushy mustache and muscular physique looked better suited for a 70’s gay porno.

The dumbest thing though is how at the end it implies that Jim and Kathy get into a romantic relationship, which defies all credibility. There’s too much of an extreme mental disparity between the two. It will always be a parent-child scenario versus that of two people on equal footing. In fact that’s one of the reasons I got bored with it as there’s clearly limits to how far this quasi friendship, with Kathy being stuck with the mind of a 10-year-old, can go and the fact that the film creates this idea of a wondrous romance is just too absurd to swallow. The start of a nice little friendship where they become pen-pals would be cute enough, but anything more than that; no!

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: None

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.

Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?

This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.

One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.

Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.

The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit.  There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.

To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Windy City (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Keeping the gang together.

Danny (John Shea) is a struggling writer living in Chicago. When he was young he had big dreams of being a best-selling novelist, but now that he’s older he’s finding adulthood to be a lot tougher than he thought. He’s also broken-up with his longtime girlfriend Emily (Kate Capshaw) and dealing with his best friend Sol (Josh Mostel) who’s dying of leukemia. He wants the gang from childhood to get together one last time and take Sol out on the lake in a sailboat ride and pretend that they are pirates. Sol always fantasized about being one when they were kids and Danny wants to do something special for him before he passes-away, which could be at any time, but the other friends now have family and job obligations to meet and don’t think they’ll be able to make the trip, which Danny finds disappointing.

This was yet another entry in a string of films that came out in the early 80’s dealing with the baby boomers growing out of their 60’s hippie phase and into the less idealistic adulthood years of the 80’s. While none of them were all that great this one ranks at the bottom and a lot of the reason for it is that it’s too shallow. Star Shea, who looks almost exactly like Micheal Ontkean, is a perfect example as he looks like someone snatched off of a model magazine cover and his character displays no faults of any kind. He’s so caring, gracious and generous, which along with his pristine pretty-boy looks, make it almost nauseating. He does have insecurity in regards to his writing, but every writer has this and thus the arguing that culminates from this with his girlfriend becomes quite redundant and doesn’t propel the story.

Maintaining the same clique of friends that you had growing-up isn’t realistic. At least in The Big Chill it analyzed how the member’s of the old college gang had changed and how they weren’t as close as they were and that this was inevitable even though this film acts like somehow it can be overcome, which it can’t. Sol is the only interesting member and the story should’ve been centered around him and maybe one, or two close friends from the old crew that have remained together while the rest moved-on, which would’ve been more authentic. The extra friends don’t add much anyways and respond and say predictable cliched stuff making them more like clutter than anything.

Danny’s relationship with Emily is superficial too and there’s no concrete reason is given, or shown to what caused their break-up. Danny’s inability to move-on from her and the way he snoops into her window late at night would make him a creepy stalker by today’s standards. Having him careen down the streets of Chicago in a desperate attempt to stop her wedding, like in The Graduate, which gets mentioned, is pathetic. I was impressed though when he tries to jump over a drawbridge, which I thought, since this film is so irritatingly romanticized, that he would make, but instead he goes right into the river, which is the best part of the whole movie. ..it’s just a shame he didn’t stay there.

I did enjoy the picturesque scenery of Chicago, but felt there needed to be more of it especially since the city’s nickname is in the film’s title. I did get a kick out of the football game in the park that the guys play. Usually when a bunch of middle-agers get together for a game it’s rather informal, but here they had actual refs and even spectators, which I found amusing. The rest of the movie though is strained and will have many rolling-their-eyes. The best example of this is when Sol tells Danny that he’ll send him sign after he’s dead, in this case blowing Danny’s hat off of his head, so I knew right away when he says this that a scene of Danny’s hat getting blown-off and him looking up into the heaven’s will occur at the very end and sure enough that’s exactly what happens, which makes this film not only rampantly corny, but also painfully predictable though female viewers may rate it more favorably.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Armyan Bernstein

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hoping to buy restaurant.

Alby (Elliot Gould) is tired of slaving away as a cook at a small Brooklyn diner run by both he and his mother (Shelley Winters). He dreams of owning a swanky restaurant in downtown Manhattan and finds the perfect place, but he needs help with the financing. He goes to his rich uncle Benjamin (Sid Caesar), who at first is reluctant to loan him the needed money, but eventually agrees. However, it comes with one big stipulation; Alby can get the money, but only if he ends his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Elizabeth (Margaux Hemingway), who his uncle has never liked since she’s not Jewish.

From the outset I internally groaned when I saw that it was produced by Cannon Pictures, which was notorious for making a lot of cheesy action flicks during the decade, but this one is approached differently. The script, by Arnold Shulman, who died at the young age of 48 before filming of his screenplay had even begun, is much more personal than the usual Cannon fodder as it delves into the close-knit, extended Jewish family who can be both a source of great support and hindrance.

I was happy too, at least initially, to see Hemingway get another shot at a co-starring role. She was a model, and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, who broke into the movie scene with the controversial hit Lipstickwhere she played a rape victim, which was too demanding of a part for someone with so little acting experience. This role here was more reasonable, but without sounding too harsh, I couldn’t stand her voice. Her famous sister Mariel has a very pretty sounding one, so why Margaux got stuck with such an unusually raspy one that belied her otherwise young age I didn’t understand. I know when I watched Lipstickwhich was released 8 years earlier, her voice was only slightly raspy making me believe her smoking caused it to get worse and in my opinion the reason why her onscreen career never took-off.

Gould’s presence doesn’t help either. During the 70’s he was a cinematic counter-culture hero taking it to the establishment, but by the 80’s that persona was no longer in vogue, so he had to settle for benign, nice-guy parts, which is clearly not his forte. He tries hard, and at one point tells-off a few people in semi-classic Gould-style, but for the most part he’s quite boring. His attempt to portray a 36-year-old even though he was actually 45 doesn’t quite work and there’s no explanation for why this frumpy guy with a limited income is able to snare such a young, good-looking babe.

Winters, who seems born to play the meddling, overly-protective Jewish mother, which she did to great success in Next Stop, Greenwich Village, but here her character is too subdued making her presence transparent. Ceasar is a surprise. After his work in the 50’s TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’ his later parts couldn’t quite match his unique talents, but he scores both on the comedy and drama end here. Carol Kane is a delight as she courts Gould and talks breathlessly about philosophy as she hurriedly walks in a New York subway and then later at her place reveals some very bizarre sexual fetishes. Burt Young has some very funny scenes too as Gould’s cynical friend who doesn’t shy away from expressing his low opinion of marriage.

The story though is too simple for such an a relatively long runtime and by the second-half becomes strained. The idea that Gould had such a great relationship with Hemingway as the movie wants us to believe is dubious as she immediately dumps him the second his uncle tells her to leave him and then callously throws Gould out of the apartment instead of being honest and telling him about her meeting with the uncle and then talking it out like a truly close couple would. Later when Gould, who still doesn’t understand why the break-up happened, calls her to get an explanation and try to make amends, she coldly hangs-up making it seem like he was way more into her than she was into him and thus causing this to be a weak romance instead of a strong one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: Golan-Globus Productions

Available: VHS, DVD-R

That Lucky Touch (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist and arms dealer.

Michael (Roger Moore) is an arms dealer who travels the globe looking for state-of-the-art weapons that he can sell. Julia (Susannah York) is a journalist who writes articles that abhors men who are into guns. The two reside in the same building, but have never met. One night Julia holds a party and while she is seeing her guests out her front door accidentally closes causing her to become locked-out of her apartment. Michael, who is on the outs with his ditzy, live-in girlfriend Sophie (Sydne Rome), decides to use this opportunity to put the moves on Julia. He invites her into his place, so she can call the landlord, but then unplugs the phone, so she’ll think it’s out-of-order and be forced to spend the night. Julia though turns-the-tables by ordering him out on the ledge and into the rainy night while demanding he get into her apartment through an open window. This then begins their love-hate cycle where every time they start to bond one of them finds out something about the other that they hate and thus begin to fight.

While the premise has potential the scenario is poorly plotted and hard to get into though the middle part does have some funny moments. The scene where Lee J. Cobb, who plays an army general, thinks he’s getting an important call from the President, as his red phone is blinking, but instead it’s from his scatterbrained wife, delightfully played by Shelley Winters, is hilarious. The segment dealing with Moore and York trying to get into her apartment is quite good too, but doesn’t get played-out enough as they take a trip to her landlord’s to get the key, but this part is never shown. However, so much time is spent with them trying to find every other way to get inside that I felt we should’ve included this part instead of suddenly cutting away and only implying what happened later.

What I didn’t like was the beginning where the scenes cut back-and-forth between Moore testing out some guns and York typing away without having any idea what they were doing, or why. It’s not until 15-minutes in that it gets revealed that these two live across from each other, which should’ve been established right away. The ending gets botched too as the second-half is spent on the couple, but ends by focusing solely on the secondary characters in an ill-advised screwball finale.

Moore’s acting helps. The glib way that he conveys his acerbic lines are amusing and I came away thinking he was much better in comedy and missed his calling by not doing more of them. York though seems miscast. She’s great in drama, but her comic timing is missing and she’s too hostile to the extent that you start to wonder why Moore’s character would have any interest in her at all. The part was originally intended for Sophia Loren, who would’ve been better and more age appropriate since there was only a few years difference between her and Moore versus the over 10-year gap that he had with York.

The supporting cast is solid especially Winters and Rome, but Cobb is the surprise as he spent his whole career doing dramas, but manages to be the funniest one here and it’s just a shame that this marked his final film appearance, he actually suffered a heart attack during the production. The soundtrack is pleasing too, but the flat script needed better fleshing-out.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Christopher Miles

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 2 Import) DVD-R (dvdlady)